After a 3½ year gap I’ve started playing with a samba band again. I’ve played with a couple of bands in the past, firstly with the ludicrously named Someone at the Door who are a community band based in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Within a couple of weeks of joining that band I played my first gig, Bewdley Carnival, and under the stewardship of myself and Chairman Ray a couple of years later we had become the self proclaimed Hardest Working Samba Band in the Midlands, our hard work being built more on enthusiasm than on out and out ability.
As Secretary I was taking and turning away lots of gigs, particularly from BBC Radio who seemed to expect 15 of us turn up in Worcester at 7am to play a 30 second snatch of drumming on the morning of the World Cup Final. We nearly played the Royal Agricultural Show until they realised that we were likely to frighten the animals (and opted for a Royal Ballet company instead) and over the 3 years I learnt some important samba lessons such as never play whilst on grass (turf not the drug) and avoid sharing the bill with performing dogs as they’ll always upstage you. SATD have become regulars at the annual Birmingham Artsfest and it was a real buzz to lead the band at those Artsfest gigs where we would have a few hundred interested onlookers, rather than us being an annoying obstruction to town centre shoppers as we were on most weekends through the summer.
As we struggled to agree to move to weekly practises (and we needed them!) I looked to get an extra drumming fix and so joined a second band Oya Batucada which provided a completely different experience. This South Birmingham group was a motley assortment of foreign students, professional musicians and other colourful yet transient types. Rather than trying to play 5 different grooves in a 30 minute set they would play one groove continuously so the sound was far more authentic, serious and intense, though admittedly tiring and slightly repetitive at times. I ended up playing a large surdo which was back breaking work. Their gigs were less frequent than SATD’s but were more professional, some of them being corporate dos and we got paid expenses too! The best one I did with them was at the Leicester YMCA along side a Capoeria troupe and a pagode band of professional musicians that had travelled up from London.
The Manchester School of Samba sit somewhere between the busy, organised SATD band of pensioners, kids and their mothers et al and the chaotic but intense Oya. Our mestre, Tony Watt, is one of the most experienced leaders in the country and although the band is open to all, the standard of playing is pretty good. We are also fortunate to have a healthy troupe of dancers under the guidance of Danny. The band busk regularly although complaints from some miserable shopkeepers have put that on hold whilst the City Council find us some alternative venues around the city. Whilst busking at the start of the year, a runner for the Britain’s got talent show spotted the band and asked if they would audition. The initial knee jerk reaction was a ‘no thanks’ but after a bit of thought the band decided to give it a go. They got through the first stage and went down to London to be judged as part of the final 200 acts (from 40,000 or so). Samba isn’t best suited to the 2 minute slot they were given to perform in so it was no surprise that the band didn’t progress any further. The judges said something derogatory about the dancers so although we are being courted to take part next year, we’ll probably give it a miss. This year’s season is kicking off with 3 gigs at the end of this month (I hope to play one of them) and the big gig on the horizon is a samba gathering at the start of August in Liverpool to celebrate its City of Culture mantle.
One of the band definitely has got talent plenty of talent: Surdo player Michael Browne featured in the BBC’s Made in England series last week when he was taken on a journey from his native Moss Side to be inspired by Wordsworth’s Lake District. He produced a beautiful painting of Joanna from Grasmere’s famous gingerbread shop being courted (perhaps?) by Tony our samba band leader. He’s captured a fabulous expression on her face, and her husband likes it too as he’s bought the painting! I popped into Town to see it this lunchtime as it’s hanging in the City Gallery on Moseley Street for the next couple of weeks.